On February 26, 2020

79% of Vermont schools’ taps found to have lead

Eight months after a law went into effect requiring Vermont schools to test their drinking water taps for lead, most are finding at least one tap with elevated lead levels – results that health officials say are in line with expectations.

Of the 168 schools that have received their water test results to date, 79% have at least one tap with lead levels at or above 4 parts per billion (ppb) – the action level set by state law. If schools have a result at or above 4 ppb, they are required to immediately stop using the fixture and either replace it or permanently disable it.

The state’s 440 public and independent schools and 1,200 child care programs must test all taps used for drinking water and cooking by the end of this year. The 2019 law was created after a pilot study of drinking water taps at 16 schools detected lead levels of at least 1 ppb at all the schools tested.

Lead exposure poses a special risk to young children because they absorb lead into their systems more easily than adults do. Lead can slow down physical growth, impair development and learning, and cause behavioral problems. Drinking tap water is just one of the ways children can be exposed to lead.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine,said the test results do not come as a surprise.

“The pilot study told us a lot about what to expect with a broader testing program,” said Levine. “Including that when fixtures are not regularly used, lead can build up in the water. We learned this would be of particular concern in school buildings that have older plumbing, which tends to contain more lead.”

Levine said the results underscore why it’s important for the state to require the testing. “Lead poisoning is a serious, but preventable health problem,” said Dr. Levine. “There is no safe level of lead in the body, which means we need to address the sources of lead where we find them.”

Licensed child care programs are also required to test their water. Of the 751 child care programs that have sent in samples, 13% have at least one tap at or above 4 ppb. Child care programs are less likely to have an elevated lead result because they have fewer taps to sample.

All test results are listed at leadresults.vermont.gov. The public can also check the current status of testing statewide by going to that link and clicking the “reports” tab and then “overall summary.”

Once a tap is taken out of service, the school or child care then chooses a permanent fix, such as removing or replacing the fixture. The state is covering the cost of testing and will also provide reimbursement for fixture replacement. To date, 484 taps have been replaced and 145 others have been permanently removed from service.

The project is being coordinated by the Health Department in close collaboration with the Agency of Education, Department for Children and Families, and the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“This is a huge undertaking,” Dr. Levine said. “I appreciate the hard work being done by our schools and child care programs to help protect the health of their children and staff.”

The Health Department also recommends testing your home drinking water for lead. Order two lead test kits – a first draw and flush – for a total of $24 by calling the Health Department.

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